UNITED STATES NEWS

Question of whether Nebraska public money can go to private schools still set for November ballot

Mar 1, 2024, 1:31 PM

Nebraska’s top election official has ruled that voters will get to decide this year whether to repeal a law that gives taxpayer money for private school scholarships.

But both Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen and state Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, who authored the school choice law and sought to have the repeal effort kept off the ballot, acknowledge that the courts will likely ultimately decide if the repeal question makes it onto November’s ballot.

Evnen said in a news release late Thursday that he consulted state law and previous state attorney general opinions before concluding that the referendum question is legal and will appear on the November ballot “unless otherwise ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Those behind the referendum effort lauded Evnen’s decision.

“Nebraskans have been clear that they want to vote on the issue of diverting public tax dollars to fund private schools,” said Nebraska State Education Association President Jenni Benson, who also serves on the board of the group that carried out the referendum petition effort last year. “State lawmakers also must respect voters on this issue and reject new legislative attempts to impose voucher schemes on Nebraska taxpayers.”

The conflict stems from Linehan’s law passed last year allowing millions in state income tax to be diverted to organizations that grant private school tuition scholarships. That passage set up a battle between powerful education unions and heavily-funded conservative groups trying to make their mark on school policies following COVID-19 lockdowns and ongoing fights over transgender policies.

Even before the bill was signed into law, a petition effort backed largely by public school unions and supporters was launched to ask Nebraska voters to repeal it. The effort collected nearly double the number of valid signatures needed to put the question on the November ballot, and Evnen approved the ballot measure in October.

But in January, Linehan sent Evnen a letter backed by private practice attorneys asking him to declare the ballot initiative unconstitutional and pull it from November’s ballot. The letter argued that the state constitution places the power of taxation solely in the hands of the Legislature.

In denying the request, Evnen said he based his rejection on past opinions by the attorney general’s office. Those opinions found that a referendum question can’t be rejected only for frustrating the Legislature’s taxation power. Instead, it must “completely destroy the taxing authority of the Legislature,” which the referendum question doesn’t do, he said.

But Evnen also acknowledged that Linehan’s challenge raises substantive constitutional questions that are “outside the purview of my office to consider.”

“Such issues must be left for the courts to decide,” he wrote.

Linehan has said as much since sending the letter, acknowledging that however Evnen ruled on the ballot challenge, the side not favored would likely sue to reverse it.

“This will end up being left up to the state Supreme Court to decide,” she said.

The new school funding law does not appropriate taxpayer dollars directly toward private school vouchers. Instead, it allows businesses, individuals, estates and trusts to donate a portion of their owed state income tax.

Businesses and individuals would be allowed to donate up to $100,000 per year, while estates and trusts could offer up to $1 million a year. The bill would allocate $25 million a year over the first two years starting in 2024, and up to $100 million annually thereafter to cover such donations. That dollar-for-dollar tax credit is money that would otherwise go into the state’s general revenue fund.

Supporters of the scholarship program say it helps underprivileged students who have few other choices when they find themselves in an underperforming or toxic public school environment. Public school advocates counter that the act sends taxpayer dollars to private schools that are allowed under religious tenets to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students.

United States News

Associated Press

OJ Simpson has been cremated, estate attorney in Las Vegas says. No public memorial is planned

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former football star and celebrity criminal defendant O.J. Simpson was cremated Wednesday, the lawyer handling his estate said following his death last week at home in Las Vegas at age 76. Attorney Malcolm LaVergne told The Associated Press he was present, along with unspecified other people, for the morning event at […]

11 minutes ago

Associated Press

Kentucky lawmaker says he wants to renew efforts targeting DEI initiatives on college campuses

A Republican lawmaker has signaled plans to mount another effort to limit diversity, equity and inclusion practices at Kentucky’s public universities after GOP supermajorities failed to resolve differences on the issue during the recently ended legislative session. Kentucky lawmakers will convene again in January, and state Sen. Mike Wilson said he hopes lawmakers use the […]

16 minutes ago

Associated Press

North Carolina University system considers policy change that could cut diversity staff

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The future of diversity, equity and inclusion staff jobs in North Carolina’s public university system could be at stake as a series of votes loom on a key policy’s potential repeal. The Committee on University Governance within the University of North Carolina Board of Governors that oversees 17 schools, was poised […]

46 minutes ago

Associated Press

Sweeping gun legislation awaits final votes as Maine lawmakers near adjournment

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The Maine Legislature moved in fits and starts toward adjournment on Wednesday, with unfinished business including final votes on a series of gun safety bills that were introduced after the deadliest shooting in state history last fall. The Senate was awaiting an enactment vote on the governor’s gun safety proposals that […]

56 minutes ago

Associated Press

How many ballerinas can dance on tiptoes in one place? A world record 353 at New York’s Plaza Hotel

NEW YORK (AP) — Hundreds of young dancers in white tutus and tightly coiffed hair gathered in New York’s Plaza Hotel on Wednesday to break the world record for dancing on pointe in one place. The spectacle was organized by Youth America Grand Prix, a ballet scholarship program that is celebrating its 25th anniversary with […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Lab chief faces sentencing in Michigan 12 years after fatal US meningitis outbreak

HOWELL, Mich. (AP) — Days after a routine injection to ease back pain, Donna Kruzich and a friend drove across the border to Canada in 2012 to see end-of-summer theater in Stratford, Ontario. The 78-year-old Michigan woman suddenly became ill and returned home. By early October, she was dead. “Most of the time she could […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

Question of whether Nebraska public money can go to private schools still set for November ballot